Friday, August 31, 2012

Amazing Fulanga

I can't believe it has been almost two weeks since our 'arrival' blog post.

First off, Fulanga is correctly spelled Fulaga (no "n"), however it is pronounced with an "n". I will write it here the way it is pronounced, rather than the way it is correctly spelled in Fiji. Someday, when our cruising adventures slow down a little (during cyclone season), maybe I'll do a post on Fiji spelling vs pronunciation and why they are different.

Well, I hate to say so (because we don't want to encourage any fees), but Fulanga is worth the $50FJ fee that the village charges (about $30 U.S.). I've been pondering exactly why every cruiser who comes here says "WOW, it's really worth the fee.". Most who've just recently crossed the best of the South Pacific, say "This is the best place I've been so far.". OK, so why?

1. An amazing (SE Corner) anchorage, with a long long white sand beach, and an anchorage in 10 feet good holding sand, with good protection 360-degrees. For you guys in Florida with the Bahamas right there, you say "Yeah, so what?". Well, for the South Pacific, this is really special. So many of the anchorages in the South Pacific are deep, or corally, or exposed, or all three. Having a GORGEOUS anchorage where you sleep well even when the wind is blowing 25 knots is rare.

2. This gorgeous anchorage is well away from the villages, so we are not feeling like we are under the scrutiny of the locals. They don't visit the anchorage much (no fishing there) unless you invite them.

3. There are 20 or 30 possible anchorages here--the max depth in the whole lagoon is about 50 feet, and it is 90% sand, so you can toss your anchor pretty much anywhere you fancy. Just the one "Southeast Anchorage" could hold 30 boats. There are lots of nooks and crannyies with small private beaches.

4. The island/atoll/archipelago is unique in that it is a lagoon inside a crater (mostly surrounded by land) inside an atoll. The outer lagoon is about the size of Bora Bora (for you cruisers who have been there), but picture an inner lagoon INSIDE the land (ie instead of that awesome peak, an inner lagoon instead.) The significance of the inner lagoon surrounded (almost completely) by land, is that no matter what the state of the tide, the swell, or the wind, the inner lagoon is calm. After so many dicey exposed rolly corally anchorages, this one is a real pleasure.

Unlike the Caribbean with a 1-2' tidal range, in Fiji, the tidal range is 4-6 feet. So at high tide, any reef anchorages are pretty "sloshy" (rolly, etc). They look great on the charts but end up being uncomfortable in practice.

5. The reef and the waters are still fairly pristine. We have yet to see any debris or trash on the bottom. (A little floats up on the beach, but anything useful, the villagers collect and put to good use).

6. The villages out here in the nether regions of Fiji are pretty special. While being very primitive, they are very neat and clean. Most people speak passable English (everyone is taught English in schools). A good number of them have been "off island" for one reason or another (school, work, families) and have chosen to come back to their quiet village and very relaxed lifestyle.

The villagers are totally self-sufficient, food-wise. Every family has a "plantation" somewhere (usually in plots outside the village), where they grow crops. Plus, of course, a breadfruit tree outside their door. They all fish, and every meal we have had in the village, we have been served fish. Most also have a few chickens and pigs, which they reserve for special occasions.

The Fijians, like most Polynesians, are brought up in a very communal culture. All for one and one for all. It is a culture that is very different from my WASP American upbringing. We work hard and expect our neighbors to also work hard and do for themselves. We wouldn't be happy sharing the fruits of our labors with our neighbors (without some definite reciprocity). But in Fiji, it's not unusual for a neighbor to invite himself into your house and help himself to your food. It's just the way they are, culturally. We are enjoying the cultural exchanges.

We have been to ch-ch-church 3 times in the last last 3 weeks. Church is a central part of the village life. We have been going to church and then lunch afterward with our new friends from the village, Sera and Sikeli. Sikeli worked at an upscale resort on Viti Levu for a number of years, and then came back home to his village. Sera is the government nurse for the island. They both are intelligent, well read, and speak very good English. They have a very cute daughter, who at 5 years old, can already count to 100 in English as well as Fijian. She has been teaching me my numbers in Fijian.

We have been diving in the pass twice (and snorkeling a couple times as well). We think we've got the current figured out. Fulanga has a very narrow pass and the current runs 2-4 knots most of the time. The closest tide station is nearly 100 miles west of here, but that seems to be a good enough benchmark for us to figure out what the pass is doing. (Details in the Fiji Compendium). There is an amazing array of big fish swimming around at the outside of the pass on the tide change.

We took one day and motored Soggy Paws all the way around the inner rim of the lagoon. We were looking for the "cyclone hole" someone had reported was here, plus checking out anchorages that other boats had reported, and marking new ones. We now have a pretty accurate chart of Fulanga, with tracks criss-crossing in every direction. Navigation inside the lagoon is pretty easy--with a sand bottom, most of the "bommies" are easy to see.

The villagers invited some of the cruisers out spearfishing and lobstering. They tend to go out late in the week to get goodies for their big meal on Sunday. We were surprised to find that they actually find lobster inside the lagoon. We visited a few spots they had stopped at later, and found one good-sized lobster in a big coral head, but were unsuccessful in catching him. We ended up buying 2 lobster from some of the fishermen.

We are enjoying life here in Fulanga. We will post some pictures when we next have internet.
At 08/19/2012 7:15 PM (utc) our position was 19°09.18'S 178°32.43'W

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Weeks in the Exploring Isles

July 24 - August 13

Well, I've given up trying to catch up with detailed updates. I just wasn't making any progress, and as we move into a new area, I want to get up to date.

We spent 3 mahvelous weeks in the area of the Lau Group (in Fiji), known as The Exploring Isles. The primary island in this area is Vanua Balavu, and the best anchoring area is known as The Bay of Islands. We did them all.

We started with an entry through the western pass, off the village of Daliconi. After doing our sevusevu in Daliconi, we moved up to the Bay of Islands. This is roughly a 1 square mile area dotted with small volcanic uplift islands. It has many many pockets in which to anchor, and even after almost 2 weeks there, we were still discovering new spots (dinghy exploration primarily). One boat we know spent 6 weeks anchored in one spot. You could do that easily. But not us...

After a week in the Bay of Islands, we took advantage of a light air period to go explore a little on the east side of Vanua Balavu. We motored around the island counter-clockwise, dragging a fishing line, and in 1 hour, we had cuaght 6 fish between 2 boats. We have continued to do well fishing since then.

We checked out 3 bays (Bavatu, Horse Bay, Little Bay) and then anchored out by Avea Island. We didn't know when we set out that there was a village on Avea that we should do sevusevu with. So we made our stay short, just overnight. We spent an hour in the dinghies in the morning checking to see if we could find a pass through the outer reef to go diving outside the reef. Then we moved into Little Bay for another overnight (gorgeous, great exploration, snorkeling). This bay was associated with another village that we should have done sevusevu with (Mavana Village, just S of the bay). But we again made a short stop of it, promising to come back and do sevusevu on our return (which we never did :()

Then we headed back around to the village of Daliconi, on the west coast, where we had scheduled a "meke" (rhymes with Becky). This is a village celebration, with food, singing, dancing and kava drinking. They were putting it on for us all at a cost of $25 FJ per person. It was a nice evening, with good food, and we got a chance to interact with the villagers some.

After that, we spent another week in the Bay of Islands, and then headed back to the west coast, spending a few nights in Bavatu and then heading down to Susui, the village at the southern end. Bavatu was really nice. We ended up grabbing one of two moorings off the Exploring Islands Yacht Squadron. The EIYS is not really open, but we talked to the caretaker of the plantation (Biu), and he said it was OK for us to use the moorings, and take showers in the water hose on the dock.

While in Bavatu, we hiked to the top of the ridge, where there's a gorgeous overlook over the Bay of Islands. Go in the morning for the best photos. (we went in the afternoon, but I have a morning shot someone else gave us, that I'll post when we have real internet). You could again spend a week here--fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking. But in a few days we moved on.

We took Biu, the Bavatu caretaker, and one of his guys with us when we went south. We stopped in Lomaloma, the only village on the island with stores and gasoline for sale. Biu got off here. His outboard is not working and they were low on supplies, and needed to pick up their wages. He was going to make his own way back to Bavatu. We only made a brief stop in Lomaloma. The bakery's oven was down, so there was no bread. No eggs, and the same potatoes and onions we had found a week before on a trip by road from Daliconi. But we did top off with gasoline.

Then it was a short motor on down to the village of Susui. This is a tiny village of only 65 people, at the far southern end of the Exploring Isles. The village is on a beautiful bay with a beach, and is very neat and clean. Some friends of ours had spent 2 weeks here earlier in the season, and had really liked it.

When we went in to do sevusevu, we were shocked to be presented with a paper, with formal and polite language (but handwritten) telling us that there was now a $50 fee to anchor off their village. Our friends on Sidewinder and Chesapeake who had just arrived 2 days before, had not been charged a fee. We shocked them right back by stating that if they wanted a fee to anchor, we would leave. So they rescinded the fee. (Our village host, Jacob, had told them that this was likely going to happen, but the village council had not listened to him).

We spent 3 days in Susui, attending church on Sunday, and we were invited to participate in the after-church lunch with the pastor of the church. They fed about 30 people with a big spread of baked fish, bananas, casava, and some green stuff, all locally grown/caught). While I was helping the women lay out the lunch, Dave and Jerry from Challenger and Kennedy from Far Star were talking with the village elders about the problem with charging an anchoring fee, and suggesting other ways for the village to generate cash flow from the cruisers. We later followed this up with a typed up list of suggestions, and an example flyer for their "Hidden Lagoon Tour" that they could do as a tourist offering.

We hate to see this nice quiet village pimping themselves as a tourist destination, but they are desperate for cash to support the village infrastructure. Their main village generator is broken, and when it IS working, they often can't afford to buy diesel fuel for it.

Dave, Jerry, and Kennedy also spent an afternoon working on their village generators, to show them that cruisers offered the villages something more than just cash benefits. They were able to fix the school generator, which had an electrical issue that Dave was able to track down. The main village diesel generator needed a part, which we found after spending some time looking at it, was due in with a government repair person, in about a week.

We could easily have spent another week in Susui, but felt we needed to get going on this weather window to Fulanga, 100 miles south of The Exploring Isles.

So we left Susui mid day yesterday, and went straight east to the pass and out the Tonga Pass about 2pm. All 3 boats caught at least one fish between the village and the pass.

At 2012/08/12 12:00 AM (utc) our position was 17°20.44'S 178°56.94'W

Monday, August 6, 2012

Overnight to the Northern Lau Group

July 22

We pulled anchor from our anchorage on the west side of the islands at Budd Reef at 4pm, and motored in light easterly winds out the south pass (16-33.18S / 179-41.01W). We had scoped this area on the way in in good light, and knew it to be pretty much wide open. The only thing we had to avoid was an area of coral close to the NE of Raranatiqa Island, which we cou

Once outside the reef, we headed straight for our waypoint NE of Motu Lailai, a small reef we needed to pass before we were in open water. Continuing on this course would take us straight into the NW pass at Vanua Balavu. But for two reasons, once clear of Motu Lailai, we opted instead to head for just west of Kanacea Island (just west of Vanua Balavu). The first reason was that this was a much more comfortable point of sail for us, and the second was that we expected to arrive about 2am, and it would be more comfortable killing time in what was forecast to NE at 20 kts, in the lee of Vanua Balavu and Kanathea, rather than off the NW tip of the island.

The 20 knots never materialized, but we were still glad we had taken this choice. The one boat that was trying to head for the NW pass eventually gave up and follow us, as they weren't having much fun beating into the wind and seas.
Once in the lee of Kanacea and Vanua Balavu, we took down most of the sail and spent the rest of the night slowly jogging upwind in the comfortable conditions in the lee of Vanua Balavu.

At 8am we were outside the Adavaci Pass. The light was in our eyes, but the conditions were good, and the waypoints were good (see the Fiji Compendium for these waypoints), so we just proceeded slowly with a good lookout on the bow, and had no problems.

From the pass, we headed for the southern tip of the island just to the east of the pass, and from there straight east into the Daliconi Village anchorage.

We had about 5 boats all arriving at Daliconi from various points on this nice weather window. Our friend Kennedy on Far Star finally caught up with us from Savusavu (carrying 4 SCUBA tanks and some supplies for us), Chesapeake joined us from their anchorage in Matagi, plus 4 of us from Budd Reef. More on Daliconi on the next update..

At 07/22/2012 10:25 PM (utc) our position was 17°13.14'S 178°58.00'W

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Few Days at Budd Reef

July 19-22

When we did our sevusevu at the village at Budd Reef, the chief's son, Willie, offered to take us in the village launch to hike to the top of the crater on Cobia Island, in the northern part of Budd Reef. It is possible to take the big boat there, but it seemed easiest to go with Willie in the launch.

We loaded 10 cruisers, and their hiking and snorkel gear into Willie's launch. The wind and seas were up in the lagoon, and it was a very wet ride over from where we were anchored to Cobia Island. The wind was a little more south than normal, and the beach that Willie normally stops at was not very tenable, so we circled the island counter-clockwise to the opening in the island facing NE. It was about mid-tide and falling, and the heavily laden launch just made it over the reef and into the bowl-shaped lagoon. Willie anchored the boat, and we spent the next 2 hours hiking up to the highest point on Cobia. From there we had a spectacular view of the entire reef and the village and islands to the SE.

The only boat we could see from the top was Chesapeake, who was anchored on the N side of the island in "School Bay". The rest of the boats were hidden from view. We were all a little anxious about our boats, because we were still anchored in the first night's anchorage, which was not very protected. But we didn't see any boats floating off across the vista, so we assumed they were still firmly attached to the bottom where we left them.

After taking lots of pictures, and eating lunch, we hiked back down to the launch. By this time, the tide had come back in enough that we could get back out over the inner reef in the launch easily. The next stop was the snorkle/dive spot. Unfortunately, we did not get a waypoint on this spot, but I'm sure Willie would be happy to take any visitor out there.

This was a pretty amazing area with lots of profile, and big caves in the reef. The reef top was awash at about 2 feet, and the bottom behind us was about 80 feet. Live coral, lots of fish, etc. We had a great snorkel, and we hope to go back to dive that spot, maybe this summer.

When we got back to the boats, our anchorage area was pretty boisterous. Willie insisted that we move west to the west side of the westernmost island. We were reluctant to move because it was late in the day and visibility was bad. But we finally did, and were glad of it. We found that 'West Anchorage' to be much quieter in the prevailing conditions.

The next day we all rested up, snorkeled, and did boat chores. And the following day, the weather was finally right for leaving for the jump to the Lau Group. So we did boat preps (scrubbed the prop, loaded the dinghy, got the sails ready, etc), and left the anchorage about 4pm for a daylight exit out the south pass for an overnight to Vanua Balavu.

It's worth mentioning that in the two westward-facing anchorages, we had Vodafone cell and internet access--weak but usable with our dongle on a USB extension cable and tied as high as we could reach in the rigging.